Keith Hernandez, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So much has been said and written about my brother Gary and me, and our ever-present father John. So in my first essay for SNY's website, I would like to share some thoughts with you about my mother, Jacquelyn Jordan Hernandez.
My mother was born on Feb. 9, 1929 in Beaumont, Texas, the second of what would be four children, my mother the only girl. My grandfather, R.D. was a rough-and-tumble Texas wildcatter who worked the oil fields at Port Arthur.
My maternal grandparents divorced at some point early in my mom's life. That's when my grandmother went to work for Ma Bell, and Mom's brother Carlos, being the oldest man in the family, had to quit school and go to work as well. With grandma working days, my mom had to babysit and raise her younger siblings, Jerry and Donald. Donald was sickly as a child (Rheumatic fever) and required extra care.
Of course we are talking about the 1930s, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression, but fortunately Maudie and Carlos had steady jobs to support the family. They were not well off by any stretch of the imagination. My mom's grandparents lived in Nacogdoches, Texas, on a farm about 110 miles NNW of Beaumont. I went to this farm as a child, and it was out in the sticks. I do believe that, immediately after grandma's divorce, the family moved in for a spell.
There were none of the modern conveniences that we take so much for granted in our lives today. No air-conditioning or heating or indoor plumbing, which meant that all water was pumped from their well, and there was an outhouse in the yard. Sweltering summer evenings were spent fanning themselves on the porch. Mom told me that on cold winter nights, they would have to heat large stones before bed and place them under the mattress at the foot of the bed for warmth. I have an old black-and-white photo of Mom as a child in the farm fields, picking cotton with her brothers and a wagon full of cotton, pulled by two mules.
At 18 years of age in 1947, Mom left home for Houston with her best friend, Betty Taylor. They got secretarial jobs for the Abercrombie Oil Company. And as fate would have it, my father, who was a minor leaguer in the St. Louis Cardinal chain, was playing that season for the Houston Buffs in the Texas League. My mom was drop dead gorgeous, and at 18 she looked exactly like Ava Gardner. Dad was staying at a hotel in downtown Houston and spotted Mom crossing the street on her lunch break. He was smitten.
Their whirlwind courtship began, and Dad and Mom married at the end of the baseball season beneath crossed bats at home plate before a game, Dad in full baseball regalia, Mom looking stunningly beautiful in a classic 1940s dress and an elegant hat. This was the beginning of my mother's baseball life. The season ended, and Dad took Mom home to San Francisco against Mom and Maudie's wishes. But I can't see my father, who was born and raised in urban San Francisco, settling down in Houston or Beaumont.
In 1949, when Dad's dream of being a major leaguer was fading due to deteriorating eyesight from a beaning earlier in his career and Mom was pregnant with their first child, John Jr., tragedy struck their young lives. There was a big problem with John Jr.: The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and he was delivered via C-section six weeks early in an attempt to save his life. Unfortunately, John Jr. wasn't strong enough to survive as a premature infant, and he only lived for six hours before passing. I've often wondered, since my parents only had two children, my brother Gary and I, whether I would have been born at all if John Jr. had survived.
That was some insight into how my mom became the beautiful mother and person that I knew. First and foremost, I never heard Mom ever say anything bad about anyone. She always found a good explanation when someone was difficult. And number one on the difficult list was my father. Mom had to deftly negotiate Dad's moods and temper for herself and for her sons. Dad was also a shouter. I don't know where this came from, since Dad never talked about his unsatisfactory relationship with his father, a proud immigrant from Spain who spoke rarely and smiled less in my childhood memories.
I remember my parent's arguments; I would hide in my bedroom and wait for the shouting to end. The fights never lasted long. Sometimes Mom would go into her bedroom, and I'd hear her sobbing through the closed door. I would go in and sit next to her and try to comfort her, but I was a young boy, powerless to do anything. I have a distinct memory of one such occasion, Mom putting her arm around me and saying, "Son, your Dad and Mom love each other very much, and don't you worry. Parents have arguments, sometimes it happens, but it has nothing to do with you. So don't you worry one bit."
Mom also had a sixth sense, bordering on ESP, when it came to her sons. Sun Valley Dairy was a large farm in Pacifica, Calif., where I grew up. They had horses, cattle, sheep, and chickens. They even delivered bottled milk to our doorstep in those early years. There was also one bull that was kept pastured in fenced-off isolation. In the pasture was a big knoll that was always in plain sight as we walked to school every day. We had been told that this was the bull's pasture and to stay out.
All those years of walking past that pasture and never once seeing the bull finally became too much for our group of boys from the block. One day we hopped the fence and were halfway up the knoll, when here came Mom, shouting, "Keith Hernandez! You get your fanny down here this instant! And that goes for the rest of you boys!"
I was stunned. Our house was a good mile walk from there. She had no view whatsoever of what we were up to, or any way of knowing that this was the day out of hundreds of others that we would jump the fence. I asked her later in the day, "Mom, how did you know we were up there?" She told me that she "had a premonition" that I was up to no good, and obviously this impelled her to seek me out. I was amazed.
Mom was very protective of Gary and me. She didn't want us hiking up in the surrounding coastal mountains and overnighting in tents like some of the other kids. She really didn't want us to do anything at all that had any potential for danger. It was always Dad who stepped in and said, "Jackie, boys will be boys. Let them go play."
As adults, Gary and me had conversions about this side of mom, which was particularly infuriating to Gary, because as the oldest, he was the first to venture out as a teenager in high school. We came to the conclusion that since Mom had lost her first child so young, it was understandable that she was like a mother hen with the two of us. But as children and teenagers, all we knew was that Mom had an uncanny ability to know what we were up to at all times.
One day my mom went to visit our neighbor, Mrs. Cotton. I was around 5 or 6 years old at the time, and Danny Cotton was a friend of mine. I said hello to Mrs. Cotton in her kitchen, and as Danny and I were going out to play I noticed a bowl of butterballs, which were hard rock candies about the size of a large marble. I grabbed one and hastily put it in my mouth because I wasn't allowed to have them. The candy went straight down my throat and got stuck, blocking my windpipe. Gasping for air, I staggered back into the kitchen. Mom told me later that I was turning blue, and she prayed to God for help. With one last frantic stab of her index finger, Mom dislodged the butterball. She was in tears and hugged me so hard that I squirmed away. Looking back now, I can only imagine how she felt: losing her first child, then watching her youngest about suffocate to death. And Mom saved my life.
Our house wasn't one of constant arguing. The great majority of the time we lived in a loving household. Mom and Dad loved each other and they certainly loved Gary and me. They devoted their lives to us. Household responsibilities were divided up: Dad was the enforcer, mentor, and coach. Mom was in charge of schooling and other much hated household chores. Mom would get us up for school every morning, flying into our bedroom and singing, "Rise and shine, my boys!"
We had a good hot breakfast just about every day, and she always prepared lunch for us to take to school in our lunch pails. When we were really young -- kindergarten through third grade most likely -- she would dress us, make us brush our teeth, and then stand behind us in front of the bathroom mirror and comb our hair. When we were perfectly combed she would say, "I've got the handsomest boys in the whole wide world!" Then she always said, "Give me some sugar!" We would groan and make a fuss, and then we would kiss our beautiful and loving mother. Fond memories.
We also had to make our beds every morning, and on the weekends Gary and I had to vacuum and mop the floors. We would alternate every week because we both hated to mop. Once a month, Mom would make us get down on our knees with a wet rag and clean the baseboards, which was another hated activity. After we finished, she would inspect the work we had done. If it didn't meet her standards, we had to do it again. After awhile, Gary and I figured out that we had better clean thoroughly and get it over with the first time around.
I'm glad that Mom instilled this everyday work ethic in me. I still make my bed every day, and even though I have a cleaning service that comes once a week, in my earlier, less affluent days, I cleaned my apartment or condo once a week myself, just the way Mom taught me. And every couple of months, I would get down on my knees and clean the baseboards. Mom would have gotten a kick out of that!
When it came to schoolwork, Mom had strict rules. When I came home from school, if I wanted to play, then I couldn't watch television after dinner until my homework was finished and passed her inspection. If there was a television show that I loved on a particular night (for example, every Thursday night was the Dean Martin Show), then I had to finish my homework before dinner. There were no exceptions. Mom would help us with all the rudimentary lessons, like memorization of the multiplication tables. She would sit at the kitchen table, index cards in hand, and go over the variables of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. She also helped with spelling, pronunciation and the definitions of words. She was always quizzing us and praising us for our correct answers. She encouraged reading as well. To this day I'm thankful for that.
As we got older, we started playing organized sports: Little League, flag football, and basketball. Mom was involved with these activities as well. Dad designed our baseball uniforms, and Mom would buy the fabric and cut out our logo for the entire team's hats. She also worked the concession stands during weekend games. She never missed a game. At times she would come to our batting practice sessions with a 9mm camera and film motion pictures of us swinging. Dad would set up the screen in the living room, and we would have a critique and tutorial of our swings. From the very beginning, baseball was a family affair.
Unfortunately, when I was in seventh grade, my mom woke up one day with full-blown rheumatoid arthritis. This would have been in 1965, when Mom was only 36 years old. This painful autoimmune disease would afflict her the rest of her life. She took many anti-inflammatory medications the rest of her life: Indocin, cortisone, prednisone, even experimental drugs like gold shots in search of relief. As a result of the medication, she blew up like a balloon. But Mom never lost her spirit and never gave in to her pain, though there were times it became too much for her to bear.
Once I was in the major leagues, Mom still never missed a game I played when I came to town to play the San Francisco Giants. She would bundle up and watch her son play at that windy, damp and frigid Candlestick Park. I once asked her to stay home and watch the game on television, and she said, "I wouldn't miss my son play for anything in the entire world." Mom was always a sweetheart, and she would have done anything for her boys.
I was blessed with a truly wonderful mother, and I miss her to this day. Remembering these happy times in my life and appreciating the love and care with which my brother and I were raised is always a comfort to me in challenging times. I hope that sharing these childhood memories with you helps lift your spirits too in these long difficult days ahead before the baseball season begins again.